Just Peace

A documentary to end War

Theories of War and Conflict – Part 2 Criticisms of Just War Theory


Just Peacemaking is a new philosophical paradigm, and as with anything new, the greatest understanding comes from comparison to what is currently known and accepted.  We need to spend a bit of time examining current philosophies of dealing with war – in particular those of Just War, Pacifism, and Crusade.

The following post is from a thesis, “Search For a New Model,” written by Rev. Paul “Chip” Jahn in the late 1990′s.  Over the next few days, we’ll be excerpting parts of his thesis as we look at the past theories of war in comparison to the new paradigm of Just Peace.

Criticisms of Just War Theory

The pacifist might criticize the just war theorist for compromising Jesus’ call to love your enemies, and the crusader might say it was unnecessary and dangerous to wage limited war against evil.  My criticism of just war theory is its naivete; if not of human nature than of war.  The proponent of just war believes that you can’t depend on your enemy being peacefully or positively transformed by a turned cheek.  They see the tenacity and pervasiveness of sin in their enemy, but think it can be controlled in themselves.

I had a personal revelation when I was in high school.  It was the late ’60′s and the United States was embroiled in the Viet Nam War.  Both of my folks had served in World War II and the stories they told about it became the foundation of my world view.  The stories were told as lessons about the nature of evil.  Evil had become flesh and blood in Adolph Hitler.  Nazism was the new Satanism.  Evil was real and terrifying; and I learned the innocent couldn’t always be saved from suffering.  But the forces of good rallied, and after a terrible struggle they vanquished evil.  This had become a part of my theological make up.  Though Nazis were flesh and blood, they weren’t human.  We were human, and we didn’t gas women, children and old people.  I thought we, Americans, were exempt from evil, as though it had been bred out of us, or we had been immunized against it.  We always fought on the side of truth and justice and God.  As I grew, I was taught evil had been reincarnated in communism.

In 1968, I was 15 and flipping through a Life Magazine which I opened to a large section of pictures from Viet Nam.  It was the article on the My Lai Massacre.  There were pictures of women and children and old people, clustered and crumpled in death.  And they had been killed by American soldiers.  I remember feeling physically ill.  I began to realize if an eighteen year old off the streets of Youngstown or the beaches of San Diego or a farm in Iowa; could, in Viet Nam, shoot a nursing baby with a M-16 then there was a Nazi in all of us.  God and good can’t be denied forever.  In the end they win out over the allies of evil.  But I can never take for granted that I’ll be on the side of God.

The just war theorist works to restrain war using reason, logic and analysis to measure out the force needed to overcome some violent injustice.  But the force they’re talking about is violent as well; and violence doesn’t lend itself to reason, logic or analysis.  It does not lend itself to restraint.  War is as chaotic an enterprise as human beings engage in and the regional ethnic conflicts that have reached flash point since the end of the cold war are more chaotic than most; involving irregular militias, and ethnic cleansing, and whole sale killing of noncombatants.  This is the way the war has been waged in Sri Lanka for more than twelve years.  There is a logic of the gun that germinates in the seed bed of violence and quickly chokes out other logics.

The most difficult part of my work in Sri Lanka is understanding what it is like for those people who have been fighting this war for more then a decade.  They don’t think the way I do.  They don’t value the things I do.  They aren’t convinced by the arguments that would convince me.  It’s hard to find anyone who is able to imagine life beyond the conflict.  Many believe they are going to die.   I have often heard fighters say that they didn’t think they can win the war on the battlefield; but they can not imagine an alternative to the fighting.

The key to just war theory is restraint, but restraint seems to be one of the first casualties of violent conflict.  There had been a bombing in Sri Lanka’s capital, Columbo, several civilians were killed; and I asked a representative of the Tigers why the LTTE engaged in terrorist activities.  He said, “We didn’t have the luxury of fighting a conventional war.  We don’t have supersonic bombers to send over Columbo, like the government does to Jaffna.”

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